Students tell us what they’ve been up to since graduating from high school.
We see and hear about the great things students at Hoover-area schools are doing regularly, but what about after they graduate from high school and move to different cities? We caught up with three of many students who have carried their knowledge and determination to other places as they pursue their dreams.
Mary White, a 2019 graduate of Hoover High School, was born with hydrocephalus as well as mild cerebral palsy. Throughout her life, she has had 42 brain surgeries, all of which consist of shots that leave her in pain for several hours afterward. Although she was mainstreamed until ninth grade, her mother, Jana White, says she was told Mary would no longer be on a college path after having to enroll in special education classes.
But “Awesome Mary,” as she is called in her now-famous YouTube videos, along with her mom, began working to make sure she would achiever her dream to go to college. Now a freshman majoring in communications at Mississippi State University, Mary is committed to encouraging those with different abilities through speaking engagements at colleges, elementary schools and civic organizations like Kiwanis, and, of course, her YouTube videos, which won an ADDY award from the National Advertising Federation in 2017.
“When she was younger, she would film silly videos on her phone, and one day her track coach saw it and helped her come up with the idea to do the YouTube videos, and it just sort of caught on,” Jana says.
Mary’s videos have covered tips for P.E. coaches, why employers should hire people with disabilities, dealing with injuries at work and dismantling stereotypes about people with disabilities.
“I just finished one about applying to college,” Mary says. “That was a lot of fun.”
Mary was accepted into the ACCESS program at MSU, a highly competitive program for students with intellectual disabilities that only admitted six freshmen this past year, her mother says.
“This program teaches her to live independently and learn how to cook and clean, and she’s learning to job shadow,” Jana says.
Mary has been awarded several local and national scholarships, including the Jeff Ridgeway Advocacy Award and the Melissa Stoneberger Scholarship, which includes a trip to San Francisco, where she will speak at the organization’s fundraiser. She was one of five seniors across the state who was named an Alabama Public Television Hero, an honor that took her to Montgomery this past May to speak in front of the House and Senate. Her mother says she was most recently thrilled to learn Mary will receive the prestigious Vulcan Award for her community involvement and advocacy.
Mary, who plans to pursue a career as an advocate for people with disabilities, says her hope for everyone is they will follow their dreams like she has. “My dream was to go to Mississippi State, and I did it,” she says. “I just keep my head up and keep going.”
DeJaneal Brown, a 2015 graduate of Spain Park, is law school-bound for fall of 2020. She plans to focus on a career in health and corporate law. She describes herself as a people person with a passion for justice, health and education. She currently works as a contract procurement manager at Georgetown University, where she recently graduated with a degree in healthcare management and policy. DeJaneal plans to pursue a dual degree program with a master’s in public policy along with her juris doctorate.
“I’ve always been interested in public policy and advocacy,” DeJaneal says. “I would like to learn to ways to provide equitable funding for different income levels. I would like to start my own educational consulting firm.”
While at Spain Park, DeJaneal was Miss Birmingham’s Outstanding Teen for 2014, a varsity cheerleader, a member of the Ambassador Club, a peer mentor and tutor and was on the Student Advisory Board. Her senior year, she received a full scholarship offer to Howard University, but she says she ultimately chose Georgetown because, as her career interests involve helping underserved populations, she’s always had a special admiration and respect for the school’s emphasis on helping students who excel academically but might not otherwise be able to attend college.
Having come from a large family that includes a total of 14 siblings (both biological and step), DeJaneal says she always grew up with the mindset of how she could be of service to others. “I was the big sister, always helping my mom and my family,” she says. “Community, family, helping people. That’s what it means to be fulfilled. You find your best career when you can turn your passion into profit making.”
Tanya Gupta, a 2019 valedictorian of Spain Park High School, says her experience as a presentation team member of the BEST Robotics Team while simultaneously taking a computer science class led to her decision to pursue a career as a software developer. Now working on a computer science degree with a focus on intelligence and modeling/ simulation at Georgia Tech, Tanya recently started working as a software developer with Radius Technology. “Technology and computer science is behind every field now,” she says. “Artificial intelligence is where the future is headed.”
Tanya applied to 24 colleges and came close to choosing another school before deciding an hour before her deadline to stay closer to home and attend Georgia Tech. “It’s one of the top five schools in the country for computer science,” she says. “There’s no doubting their academic reputation.”
Since being at Georgia Tech, Tanya has worked on a team to develop the game of Risk and has also worked for Microsoft’s largest nonprofit, Distance Teaching for Mobile Learning, in which she formulated game models to help predict how students will retain certain sets of English vocabulary. She says she is particularly interested in financial software, as she served as vice president of finance as part of Spain Park’s Student for Student Scholarship Foundation.
Because she earned college credit through her AP classes her senior year, Tanya is on a fast track to getting her master’s degree in computer science in four years. She then plans to complement that with an MBA. “In 10 years I can see myself leading a team of software developers, hopefully in the financial field,” Tanya says, noting her father, who works in financial software, and her mother, a nurse practitioner, always stressed the importance of higher education. “They always told me there’s more to learn than you will ever know. I just never want to stop learning.”